Nicki Minaj’s fourth album, The PinkPrint, was surrounded with a lot of hype before being released on December 15th. From interviews with Minaj stating the album was a game changer and a year of promotion, the album ended up leaking a few days before the release. Minaj’s fans, otherwise known as ‘barbz’, voiced their opinions of the leak through a series of angry tweets, questioning our patience on an album that was initially set to come out a month ago. While someone on her team most likely leaked the album to gain some last minute buzz, I’m always surprised how angry people get with leaks.
Unless an album leaks months in advance (Madonna is pissed right now), I don’t think they hurt album sales. The same people that planned to buy your album in January will be the same people that buy it in March. These pushbacks lead promo-losing steam and the public loses interest. After watching Minaj’s promotion tactics throughout 2014 that ranged from an explicit performance on the VMAs to record breaking videos on YouTube, the 155-165k first week sales are extremely light. We can make the argument that records don’t sell like they use to be but when you can have a single that goes double platinum, collaborations that were blasted all year and too many performances to count, blaming the buyer isn’t the answer.
Artists are hiring PR pros to create campaigns to sell their albums. It’s hard to believe other artists haven’t done listening sessions on a scale that Taylor Swift did with her latest release. Or selling limited edition mixtapes for $100 that include a ticket for a local show, signed copies, personal calls and visits from rapper Nipsey Hussle. Talent isn’t enough to sell records anymore.
I believe that there is a place for leaks in this industry. For example, let’s use an album that I listened to early and bought when it was released, Tinashe’s debut album, Aquarius. Before the world put their twos up for the triple threat superstar, Tinashe released three mixtapes that showcased her ability to create moody R&B records to urban smashes like the DJ Mustard produced track “2 On”. Tinashe released these mixtapes by herself and gained a strong following which lead to a record deal with RCA. I ended up downloading the leak because of her label deciding to push the album back and I couldn’t wait any longer but Tinashe’s dedication to her art and fans made me want to purchase the album a month after I heard it.
Even though Aquarius gained critical acclaim and solidified Tinashe’s potential to be on level with Beyoncé’s in a few years, her debut album only sold a little over 20,000 copies. Aquarius should’ve sold at least 60-80k copies by now especially with the success of her first single but RCA should’ve kept the original release date. With album campaigns planned to every little detail, it kills me when a record label feels the need to push back an album because they want to milk a few singles or they think a few more performances on late night talk shows will change the fate of low record sales. The reality is if an artist doesn’t have a fan base that is willing to buy their records or go to their concerts than the album will not sell. Labels need to work on improving their relationships with the consumers and less on successful singles, you can’t have one without the other.
Leaks are bound to happen whether it be because it’s released worldwide on different dates or a un-loyal team member decides to ruin the hard work and money that went into building a campaign for an album. I get that artists don’t like to be put on a deadline but I don’t see how they aren’t looking at the reality of what happens when you put a release date to the world and don’t deliver,
When Minaj originally announced another black Friday release for The PinkPrint to gain the same level of sales her debut album received (375k copies), it made so much sense. “Anaconda” was still burning up the charts, plus Minaj had the success of being on Jessie J’s “Bang Bang (Featuring Ariana Grande)”. You also couldn’t blank without seeing Minaj on some stage pushing her new material. All of the momentum was there for the release but it was pushed back, true fans waited and everyone else moved on to something new.
It’s crazy to think that the first and only album to go platinum this year is 1989, but Taylor’s team used some successful tactics that more artists may want to consider so there isn’t another platinum album drought in 2015. First off, set a release date and keep it! If your album isn’t in the finishing stages keep it under wraps, people love a surprise (Ex: Beyoncé’s self-titled album released around this time last year). Go beyond using the fans to push your music through random hashtags and let them get to know the artist.
People don’t just buy music because it’s good anymore, they want to know that the music is authentic to the artist and that involves letting the fans know more than the same slew of interview questions on talk shows. I’m not saying we need to know the intimate details of your sex life and the address to your grandmas home but show us the process of recording your album, what inspired you, have listening sessions, in other words get creative. Tons of people can make an album of hit singles with the help of talented producers and other big artists, but what sets that artist apart?
J. Cole is a perfect example of what a musician should be in 2014. While Cole doesn’t personally address his fans on social media (he has a team for that), Cole uses his platform to discuss issues he’s passionate about (Ferguson, the state of hip hop). His latest album, Forest Hills Drive, isn’t just one of the best rap albums of 2014. It’s a reflection of the rapper with no features or gimmicks. With Forest Hills Drive set to sell around 371k copies in its first, Cole has the biggest hip-hop first week sales of 2014. In the next year, I want to see artists focus more on their content and less on how big of a campaign they can make.